Happy Friday! Today, we're bringing you the first guest article of this year. Ami Spencer, the author of The Storm Within Her and Broken, dives into how art can imitate life and how they themselves found an inspiration in their experiences to write their new urban fantasy The Mage's Secret.
So, here's the thing. I said I'd write an article on how art imitates life, and how I draw from my experiences to create new stories. That sounded very clever, and Past-Ami must have been in a very particular (read: pretentious) mood to suggest such a lofty topic as this. Because now, as I sit down to write this (after weeks of procrastiwriting, avoidance, “thinking” and general forgetting it because I invariably got lost down a social media video wormhole) I find I’m stuck as to what to say.
Art Imitating Life.
I mean, it seems kind of obvious, doesn't it? Or does it? To what extent does art imitate life? I mean, the saying is thrown around a lot. We speak about wanting representation, and we do. We want to see our lives reflected back in the media we consume, a way to feel as if we are not alone, to feel validated and seen, to make sense of the vast array of emotions and experiences we have. But what does it mean to create these things?
I'm in no way an expert, nor experienced. I'm still a fairly new author, and in some respects I jumped in at the deep end with books which tackled big subjects. But my big subjects are the ones which shaped my first steps into writing and publishing and it wasn't a conscious decision to make that leap. Because I'm not a writer who writes in order (or wasn't, I'm trying to be more organised this year), both Broken and The Storm Within Her were formed from key concept scenes and chapters which I then built the rest of the story around. Those key scenes are the heavy ones; Callie's revelation about her suicide attempt, Seph's anxiety attack after the office party, Kate caring for Seph after her self-harm relapse. And while they're not carbon copies of events which have happened in my life, the emotions behind them and what were elicited from them are.
After I finished The Storm Within Her I struggled to write for a long time. Partially, it was due to having to start something from scratch again, as a good chunk of Storm and Broken were written concurrently. But mainly, it was because I didn't know where to go next. I'm not a “trope” writer; that is to say, I can't just pick a trope or prompt and write 80k on it (not that there's anything wrong with this, it's just not how my brain works). I need a hook, a connection, a trait of a character or a scene which I can build upon. For a long time, I thought that maybe I had exhausted my pool of experience, or at least those things which I thought would be story-worthy. I seriously considered the fact that my writing career was over.
What else could I write about?
Ironically, the next book I wrote, The Mage's Secret, came in a flash of inspiration and took me into a genre which I never thought I'd write in; urban fantasy. But does that mean that I've left the process of writing from experience in the past?
Turns out, despite the book being set in a world which runs parallel to ours, with magick and mysticism as its defining feature, the crux of the story is in the heart of every one of us, myself included. It's about being accepted by those around us, the pain of not being understood by those we believe should do, and building a family of people who love you regardless.
Well holy shit, would you look at that. I've written from my experience again.
I guess what I'm saying is writing from experience doesn't have to be explicitly obvious. Yes, it can be, and there's a place for these books, but sometimes it can be a subtle message, an undertone which burrows its way into the brain of the writer and the reader. Creating another world, whether it be two fictional characters in a different city living a different life, or an entirely new universe with fantastical elements, can give us the ability to transpose our thoughts and feelings onto someone else. In doing so it can give us the time and space we need to sort the messy, complicated web of emotions which we may feel, shedding some clarity on a situation which is overwhelming.
Recently, actually since I’ve started recording Bookish & Unbalanced, the podcast I do with Adrian J Smith and Katie Trapp, I've become a lot more introspective about my own thoughts. This may sound contradictory for someone who openly struggles with anxiety, the commonly perceived defining feature people associate with it being over-thinking. But it's the type of thoughts which I'm having which is different. Because rather than letting my thoughts consume me, I'm actively thinking about the things which trouble me, my triggers or my reactions which cause me to overthink, have an anxiety attack or lead me down a dark path. I'm dissecting the events of my life which may have shaped me in ways which I never considered before, through hearing the stories and experiences of other people. Suddenly, behaviour which I never considered to be a consequence of anything other than “it's who I am” or “it's what I have to be” is being illuminated in a new light.
The epiphany came when we were talking about setting boundaries, something which I felt AJ and Katie had much more experience and knowledge about than myself. But afterwards, I realised that even though my boundaries may not be as obvious or extreme as the ones we spoke about, I have set boundaries. And more importantly, maybe there were things which have happened in my past which have meant I've felt unable to set boundaries when I should have done. The lack of control to set boundaries when I needed to has continued to affect me, years later, in opposite ways of both striving for control in some areas of my life, and in others, not feeling like I have any. The revelation was so monumental to me, that it set me on path to do something I've never fully embraced or undertaken before. I started seeing a therapist.
So our lives continue to give us, whoever we are and whatever we do, be it authors or artists, teachers, care givers, police officers, nurses, doctors, the woman in the cafe who serves you your lunch, experiences which we can draw on and inspire throughout our lives. Art imitates life for all of us; be it in the way that we write our stories or paint our pictures, or just act towards another human being. And whatever genre I write, whatever story I tell, whoever my characters are, I have no doubt that one way or another, life will continue to provide me with the experiences which inspire these stories. And conversely, maybe our “art” will also touch someone enough to affect their lives, and so the cycle continues.
About Ami Spencer
Ami Spencer has always been writing in some way or another, but it wasn't until long, lonely night feeds with their second baby that they started to take it seriously.
Originally from Norfolk, they now live just outside Halifax, with their partner, two children, Bracken the Red Fox Lab and Macavity the Bengal cat, both of which can regularly be seen on their Twitter feed, impeding them in some way from writing.
During the day they work as a Quality Assurance Officer, which perfectly suits their fastidious (some would say picky) nature. Prior to that, they have been a Forensic Scientist, school lab technician and expert pint puller.
When not working, writing or child-wrangling, they can usually be found reading (either as a beta reader, or indulging in Thasmin or Talder fanfiction), binging their favourite boxsets (Doctor Who, The West Wing, Fort Salem to name but a few). or partaking in a gin and tonic. If they have the energy, and the Yorkshire weather is being kind, you can find them taking a walk; be it strolling around Shibden Park or a scramble through the craggs at Hebden Bridge.
On their social media you can usually find them complaining about something, speaking up about mental health, or waffling on about Doctor Who.
As for their writing, they love to write (and read) about sapphic love set amongst the struggles of real life; they are currently working on ideas dealing with topics such as depression, autism, coming out as non-binary, post-natal depression and PTSD.
Bookish & Unbalanced launched 9th January https://linktr.ee/bookishandunbalanced
About The Mage's Secret
The Mage’s Secret is out 25th January and will be available on KU, as ebook and paperback. Details can be found through social media or the website:
Social Media: @aspencerwriter
When your safe-haven may not be as safe as you first thought…
Av Moss never thought they would find happiness within themselves. But finally admitting their feelings to their best friend had brought with it the security and love they had always been denied. But when they discover a young girl is being hunted, the peace Av has found is gone ina flash.
Sare Emmot would do anything to protect the person they've loved for ten years, and with their relationship finally out in the open, happiness is within touching distance. But with a Hidden Mage revealed, Sare knows in her heart what she must do; save the girl, even though it threatens to risk everything she has strived to keep safe.
But just as Av and Sare think they have a grasp on the threat, vengeance waves a trail of destruction and betrayal. Their Coven is shattered.
The Mage's Secret is the first book in the Crow's Nest Coven series. A sapphic urban fantasy tale which explores the pain of family rejection, the joy of finding those who accept you for who you are, and the secrets which people keep.